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When being put to the ultimate challenge of life, it is often questioned whether individuals are meant to remain ethical. In extreme cases of survival, it is typically found that humans will do whatever it takes in order to survive, as an individual’s will to survive is more prominent than their display of morals and beliefs. Yann Martel’s story The Life of Pi follows Piscine Molitor, a young man who is keen on zoology and a firm follower of numerous religions. After deciding to sell their zoo and move to Canada, Pi and his family struggle to sell all of the animals and eventually bring aboard the remaining few onto the boat that they were meant to sail to Canada on. While aboard the ship, a storm arises and strikes the ship leaving the boat in shambles. Pi finds a refugee on a lifeboat as he is left as the only human survivor alongside Richard Parker, a Bengal Tiger. Pi faces an abundance of challenges during this time and the conditions he faces cause him to adopt a personality that disregards modern-day ethics governed by the apex goal of survival. This is shown through Richard Parker, an apparition of Molitor’s animalistic personality, through minor events throughout Life of Pi, and finally, when Pi begins to rebel against his own religions.

It is referenced throughout the book that the animals that Pi mentions in the story are actually humans. For instance, Richard Parker is an aspect of Pi’s own consciousness that represents his animalistic traits. Pi attempts to suppress these behaviors, but eventually, whenever Pi cannot control Richard Parker, he lashes out. To begin with, at the beginning of the story Pi is stuck on the lifeboat with a Hyena, Richard Parker, an Orangutan (nicknamed “Orange-Juice”), and a zebra. All of these animals symbolize humans that Pi was actually stuck on the boat with; the Hyena is the cook, Richard Parker is Pi, orange juice is his mother, and the zebra is the sailor. In The Life of Pi, the hyena ends up killing both the zebra and the orangutan, and when the zebra killed the orangutan, Richard Parker ended up killing the Hyena.“She was beheaded. The neck wound was still bleeding. It was a sight horrible to the eyes and killing to the spirit… I looked down. Between my feet, under the bench, I beheld Richard Parker’s head… His paws were like volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannia” (Martel 146). When switching perspectives to that of the human story, Pi ends up killing the cook to avenge his mother’s death. In addition to killing the cook (the hyena), Richard Parker (Pi), also kills the French man. Pi befriends a man on his journey, and when Pi invites him onto his lifeboat, the man becomes violent and displays cannibalistic intent. Richard Parker ends up protecting Pi and killing the man. “I heard the merest clicking of claws against the bottom of the boat… My dear brother shrieked in my face like I’d never heard a man shriek before. He let go of me. This was the terrible cost of Richard Parker.” (Martel 283). Pi killed the French man in order to protect his own well-being, as he had to take drastic measures in order to survive, and if it wasn’t for the French man, he would have perished instead. Finally, whenever Pi fed and took care of Richard Parker, he simultaneously nurtured his animalistic instincts. “Clearly Richard Parker had eaten his fill of hyena and drunk all the rainwater he wanted” (Martel 180). If taken metaphorically, Pi began to give in to his animalistic side and began to accept its existence as he continued to feed it and nurture the side of himself. This suggests that Pi made peace with this side of himself and allowed it to be free. Overall, Richard Parker is a metaphorical extension of Pi that enables him to commit acts otherwise deemed animalistic by societal standards.

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Pi was faced with multiple conflicting decisions throughout the two hundred and twenty-seven days he spent cramped on a lifeboat. For starters, at the beginning of his travels, when the hyena began to devour the zebra, Pi felt no empathy or remorse for the slowly suffering zebra, and instead only felt anger and vengeance as he wanted to cause harm and hurt the hyena. “I felt intense hatred for the hyena. I thought of doing something to kill it… I didn’t have pity to spare for long for the zebra. When your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish, hunger for survival.” (Martel 133). Moving forward, when Pi is astray on the lifeboat for a few months, he explains to the reader that when put into a life-threatening situation, all senses of reality become distorted and individuals begin to commit rash acts due to the fear of death and desire for survival. “Quickly you make rash decisions. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you’ve defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you” (Martel 179). Pi explains in this passage that the “allies” that he relied on the most, hope and trust, have been dismissed and he no longer has anybody else but himself. He is his own ally. Finally, throughout his journey, Pi kept a series of journals and diaries. By doing so, he explained to the audience that it kept him sane and made him feel normal. This would be considered a coping mechanism for Pi as he comes to the realization of his own unethical acts and uses the diary as a deterrent to this behavior. “I kept a diary. It’s hard to read. I wrote as small as I could. I was afraid I would run out of paper…I talked about what you might expect: about things that happened and how I felt, about what I caught and what I didn’t, about seas and weather, about problems and solutions, about Richard Parker.” (Martel 231)

Pi also displayed unethical behavior throughout the book as he began to rebel against his own morals and his belief system. To begin, when Pi is first stranded on the lifeboat, he vows to never eat meat as Pi has a love for animals and he grew up in a zoo, surrounded by all sorts of creatures. Everybody around him including his family was vegetarian. After a few more days and weeks on the lifeboat, Pi comes to the realization that the only way to survive out in the Pacific is to make sacrifices; in this case, abandoning his vegetarian lifestyle. “Tears flowing down my cheeks, I egged myself on until I heard a cracking sound and I no longer felt any life-fighting in my hands. I pulled back the folds of the blanket. The flying fish was dead.” (Martel 203). This passage shows the obvious conflict between Pi wanting to stay true to himself and not harm any creature but at the end of it all, he ends up committing the unethical act of killing the flying fish in order for him to survive. In addition to this, Pi started off as a timid killer, Pi gagged at the mere thought of hurting a creature but as he became comfortable with catching prey in order to fend for himself, he began to do so with no remorse. “You may be astonished that in such a short period of time, I could go from weeping over the muffled killing of a flying fish to a gleefully bludgeoning to death of a dorado” (Martel 205). The passage shows that Pi is truly delighted that he is able to catch the prey and is disregarding the life of the creature that has just passed in his hands. Finally, further into the book, Pi descends into a state of madness and he befriends a Frenchman. At first, the Frenchman is kind and Pi and the man develop a brotherly bond. Once Pi invites the man onto his boat, the man becomes cannibalistic and murderous and Richard Parker ends up killing him. Whilst dead, Pi consumes some of the man’s flesh as a desperate last resort, for no more fish remain for Pi to eat. “I will further confess that driven by the extremity of my need and the madness to which it pushed me, I ate some of his flesh… You must understand, my suffering was unremitting and he was already dead.” (Martel 284). The situation in which Pi was placed was so extreme that he was willing to consume another human being for his own survival. Overall, during the first span of time that Pi was on the lifeboat, Pi was extremely frightened of rebelling and not being true to himself, as time went by, Pi slowly began to descend into a state of madness and disregarded his morals and beliefs in order to survive.

Pi rebelled against modern ethics during his excursion in the Pacific Ocean. He did so by adopting an animalistic personality which was embodied by Richard Parker, by certain minor acts that he committed throughout the story, as well as abandoning his religious beliefs. This connects to the world we live in today as there have been many cases of individuals who have been cast away and began to descend into a state of madness that would make them act unethically. For instance, the case of Leendert Hasenbosch occurred in 1725. Hasenbosch kept a diary, had a tent, and a month’s worth of water. Similarly to Pi, Hasenbosch eventually ran out of his food supply and water. Hasenbosch drank the blood of turtles and drank his own urine because his will to survive disregarded what is considered ethical in the modern day. Hasenbosch’s case is similar to Pi’s as Pi was stranded with nothing but a lifeboat and some supplies left on the boat. Pi was left to fend for himself as his survival was much more important to rather than abiding by the law. This also correlates to the fact that humans as a species are selfish beings. As demonstrated in Life of Pi, Pi disregarded the life around him and was willing to kill and disrupt whatever it took in order for him to survive. All in all, Pi’s behavior in Life of Pi disregarded modern ethics as his need to survive outweighed his individual morals and beliefs.

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